Tate Britain used to run free daily guided tours prior to UK lockdown in March 2020. I’m pleased to say they have restarted in a different form (this blog updated August 2021) and are now called Tate Talks.
These are not dry talks to an audience seated in a lecture theatre, but pop-up talks in the galleries led by volunteer guides. They aren’t advertised on their website and the staff don’t know the details in advance. When you arrive you can find out where and when the Tate Talks are happening from a colleague. On the day I visited, they took place between 12.00pm and 3.00pm.
Portable stools are set out in front of the the first painting to be discussed and you take these stools with you when you visit the next work of art, thus ensuring social distancing.
Our first guide showed us two eighteenth century paintings by Thomas Gainsborough and Joseph Wright of Derby. I would normally have breezed past these on my way to something more ‘interesting’. This is the beauty of the Tate Talks – the in-depth knowledge and sparkling delivery by the volunteer guides ignites your interest and keeps you entertained. You learn not just about the artist and the painting but about the history, culture and social interactions of the times.
Our second guide spoke about Stanley Spencer’s The Resurrection. I’ve seen this many times and know a bit about the artist but the guide highlighted many aspects I had not seen before.
The return of free daily guided tours
I’ve been told that eventually these will return. They used to take place every day at 11am, noon, 2pm and 3pm. The 3pm tour focused on Turner. The others were magical mystery tours led by volunteer guides, free to focus on artworks of their choice. Every tour was different, and lasted about 45 minutes.
When I visited in early 2020, I found out more about Chris Ofili’s No Woman No Cry, Mark Wallinger’s Where There’s Muck, David Hockney’s Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy, Francis Bacon’s Triptych August 1972 (shown below), and Henry Moore’s Atom Piece. As you can see, my guide had impeccable taste; he was also incredibly knowledgeable.
To find out more about the Hockney piece, read this blog. I’ve combined the knowledge gained from my guide with my own opinion. You won’t look at the painting in the same way ever again!
About the author
Annette Peppis leads the team at Peppis Designworks, a creative hub of established publishing industry experts who create books, branding, marketing material and design templates for leading publishers and businesses. Keep in touch by subscribing to her bi-monthly emails.